Situated in the Galway docks, family run Galway Bay Seafoods has grown from strength to strength, earning one of three nominations for the Best Seafood Retailer in the Bord Iascaigh Mhara National Seafood Awards 2018.
Originally a renowned retailer of fresh food and poultry in Galway city, the Holland family recently took inspiration from their customers and moved towards retail, where they creatively adapted to open a gourmet deli operation last September. The Dockside Deli has proved to be an instant hit with locals, and word is now spreading to the extent where it is becoming a destination for visitors.
With this in mind we spoke to director Noel Holland, about the recent nomination, how they keep their business competitive and what issues are facing the seafood industry at the moment.
Born into the family business, Noel feels that this is something that is in his blood - so when asked about how it felt to be shortlisted in the awards he was understandably pleased.
"I'm delighted as it's no mean feat to be nominated as one of the best retail fish outlets in Ireland but we are humble," he said. "It is a reflection of our offerings that customers travel down to the docks to get our products."
Focusing on the needs of the customer is of paramount importance to Noel, and indeed is central to the business, as well as clearly identifying areas that can be improved in order to move Galway Bay Seafoods forward.
The ethos for the business, particularly the newly opened deli, is to deliver forward-thinking products whilst sustaining the Galway Dock area – which has undergone a vast amount of physical change in recent years.
The Hollands are passionate about sustaining the city’s working docks. In creating The Dockside Deli, they have also set out to preserve, sustain and animate the rich story and heritage of Galway’s Docks by curating a unique, authentic and pioneering seafood destination and experience.
The fishing industry itself has also changed, and as someone directly involved in it since finishing secondary school Noel has witnessed a complete flip in the supply and demand chain. "Previously it was a supply led business and now it is a demand led business with protected fishing and constrained supply," Noel explained. "We had to adapt the business over the last 10 years, leading to a second retail outlet in Salthill."
Galway Seafoods is not looking to increase business through volume, but by offering more diverse products at the higher end of the market – whether it be a fish cake, pie or sandwich. The business has become more innovative to provide customers with unique choice.
Central to The Dockside Deli concept is a desire to bring an awareness back to the public about the abundance of seafood and edible seaweeds available on Ireland’s west coast. This is being achieved by showcasing and creating a whole range of bespoke seafood products that aim to get the public eating in a fresh, healthy and sustainable way.
Like a seafood court, The Dockside Deli is comprised of deli-style cold counters offering cooked and ready-to-cook seafood and fish options, with a menu of creative hot daily specials also on offer. There is a focus on fresh locally supplied seaweeds as well as on bringing wild fish like mackerel and herring back into the consumer spotlight.
Stand-out items available at The Dockside Deli include hot smoked oysters, mackerel, salmon and homemade smoked kippers (all smoked in-house), as well as line-caught squid, clam & seaweed chowder with homemade seaweed bread, Connemara seaweed salad and Connemara seaweed tempura.
Customer demographics are slightly older, mostly from their 40s onwards. The business is looking to break into the younger ages groups by extending opening hours and offering a takeaway service. Interestingly, however, the addition of the deli has allowed for customers to purchase twice – once in terms of shopping for home and then possibly buying a lunch while there. In terms of popular product offerings, "People are diverse in what they buy, but still fresh organic salmon and cold cuts are reliable," Noel said, "But they want a range."
Galway Seafoods employs 23 staff spread across the roles of administration, shop deli, managers and factory crew. A major challenge for the business has been finding the right people for the business. "Working in a cold wet damp fish factory is not everybody's cup of tea," Noel said. "It is a challenge to get people to work on the ground which is an important part of the business as all the fish is very carefully processed."
75% of the fish are prepped for the shops and consistency is vital. In order to achieve this the business has partnered up with fishermen to ensure that all the fish are handled and killed to their exact specifications.
Plans for the future of Galway Seafoods include continuing to adapt and innovate for the customer with possibility of making the business a tourist destination with a fully fitted restaurant. However, for the moment, Noel joked that he just wants to "Get over Christmas".
Whatever the future plans are for the business, it certainly appears that the business is committed to providing excellent products for customers, and that clearly is a successful basis for any business.